New genetic engineering?
Don't bury the head in the sand when it comes to the risks!
Currently, all organisms obtained from genetic engineering processes in the EU have to undergo risk assessment before they can be released, cultivated or marketed as food. However, strong pressure from the genetic engineering lobby has resulted in the EU Commission wanting to abandon this basic principle in relation to plants obtained from new genetic engineering techniques (NGT). A proposal for future regulation was presented in July 2023. Testbiotech is warning of the possible negative consequences for people, the environment, nature and the livelihoods of future generations.
Against this backdrop, Testbiotech is urging the continuation in future of a comprehensive risk- and technology assessment. Our project pages „Impact Assessment“ and "Set limits to biotech!" provide information on this topic. For interested members of the public, Testbiotech offers various possibilities of approaching politics in this regard, in particular those of the EU Commission and the EU Parliament.
What is the EU Commission planning?
Most NGT plants will in future only require an entry into a register instead of mandatory risk assessment. This means that NGT plants would be legally equated to conventionally- bred plants, i. e. extensively deregulated, even if they are biologically different
The new regulation will not only apply to annual arable plants. It will also apply to wild, non-domesticated species, such as trees, wild herbs, grasses, mosses or algae, which can also spread in particularly sensitive ecosystems; all of these could be released into the environment without further controls. There would be no monitoring of the consequences that the releases might have for nature and the environment, and no measures to remove the plants from the environment if necessary.
What is the difference compared to conventional breeding?
The legislative proposal made by the EU Commission does not have adequate scientific justification and, in particular, ignores the differences between new genetic engineering and conventional breeding. It is true that many mutations can occur naturally in plants or arise during processes used in conventional breeding. However, most of these mutations have no direct effect on the phenotype of the plants. If they do change the characteristics of the plants, this does not usually go beyond the natural range of characteristics of the individual species. However, these biological limits do not apply to gene scissors, or only to a very limited extent. Even if no additional genes are inserted, new genetic engineering techniques can be used to trigger intended and unintended changes that go beyond the known characteristics of the species.
Why do plants obtained from new genetic engineering need to be thoroughly tested for risks?
CRISPR/Cas in particular has the potential to alter gene functions and properties of plants in ways that would not be expected in conventional breeding. The associated risks to humans and the environment are by no means lower compared to transgenic plants: The associated risks to humans and the environment are by no means lower compared to transgenic plants: whereas previous genetic engineering involves the transfer of genes across species boundaries, the new genetic engineering techniques now make it possible to change the characteristics of a species beyond the range of its natural characteristics, even without the insertion of additional genes. Both the technical potential and also the technical shortcomings of tools, e. g. CRISPR/Cas, mean that in future it is still essential for all genetically engineered organisms to undergo in-depth risk assessment. This should include appropriate analytical procedures to identify the intended and unintended genetic changes resulting from NGTs. These changes must then be evaluated for their direct and indirect, immediate or delayed, and cumulative long-term effects.
How sustainable is new genetic engineering?
The demand for NGT deregulation is often justified by the fact that, in view of climate change, new solutions are needed to secure the global food supply. However, new solutions cannot be considered sustainable if their use can result in ecosystems being overburdened by mass releases of non-adapted NGT organisms. Other unintended consequences include risks being introduced unnoticed into the food chain, breeding being blocked by patents and consumer interests being disregarded. At the same time, many expectations in relation to the possible benefits of NGT plants and animals seem to be far too high. Against this backdrop, a technology assessment (TA) is clearly needed in order to distinguish between empty promises and realistic expectations, as well as for the early recognition of negative effects on breeding, agriculture and food production.
Strengthen the precautionary principle!
NGT plants that have the potential to survive in the environment for several years, or to reproduce and spread, must be very closely examined, and they should not be released if there are any uncertainties. In general, the introduction of genetically engineered organisms into the environment should be limited as far as possible. As is the rule elsewhere in sensitive areas of nature conservation, interventions into the environment must be avoided as far as possible.
Protect our livelihoods!
A large number of NGT organisms across many species and with a broad range of different properties could soon be released into the environment. Many of them could spread uncontrollably, triggering complex interactions between the different NGT organisms. Similar to environmental pollution with plastics and chemicals, it is not necessarily a particular NGT organism that causes problems; it is instead the totality of the effects of different NGT organisms and their interactions that may be critical. As this involves living organisms, the environmental problems may be more diverse and complex compared pollution that has occurred in the past. Numerous genetically engineered organisms could also persist in the environment for a very long time, and thus cause a problem for many future generations to come.
What do we want to achieve?
According to current EU laws, all genetically engineered organisms have to undergo risk assessment. This system must remain in place! This risk assessment must include the evaluation of all intended and unintended genetic modifications specific to new genetic engineering, particularly in regard to risks to humans and the environment. In addition, a comprehensive technology assessment (TA) must be carried out before plants and animals derived from NGTs are used in agriculture.
NGT plants that have the potential to persist in the environment for several years, or to reproduce and spread, must be particularly closely examined in this context. They must not be released if there are any doubts. In general, the introduction of genetically engineered organisms into the environment should be limited as far as possible. As is the rule elsewhere in sensitive areas of nature conservation, environmental interventions should be avoided as far as possible.
Join-in activity: More precaution and protection of humans, animals and the environment!